Memo: The Atlantic’s President Bob Cohn to Leave in September

Full memo from Atlantic Media chairman David G. Bradley announcing Cohn’s departure, and his appointment as a Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.

Bob Cohn (Daniel Lombroso)

Below is the full text of a memo from Atlantic Media Chairman David G. Bradley announcing that, after nearly 11 years at The Atlantic, president Bob Cohn has decided to leave the company this fall. He has been named a Resident Fellow at The Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School.

My Atlantic Colleagues,

Summer greetings to you.

I’m writing to tell you a development that, while fully earned and worthy, caught me by surprise.  Two weeks ago, Bob Cohn told me that he had applied to, and to his surprise, won, the prestigious “Resident Fellowship” at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.  While the Fellowship is a three-month program, Bob has decided to use the development as a natural off-ramp from his 10+ years of service at The Atlantic.

Bob explained to me that he thought he had an asymptotic-to-zero chance of winning the Harvard fellowship, and his decision to leave altogether has evolved only since winning the award.

In a conversation this Sunday afternoon, Bob explained his larger decision to start anew.  It is the same restless spirit that made Bob such an astonishingly-successful reformer here at The Atlantic.  After almost eleven years at the publication, five as its president, Bob finds he is ready for the next challenge.

As to the detail, Bob will remain as president, flat-out with his current duties, through September 7.


For those of you who will stay with me for the fuller detail, let me offer a bit of a roadmap.  I’d like to explain the fellowship, then set out our plan to proceed in the post-Cohn era, and, finally, close with the most-resonant writing, my deep affection and high regard for Bob Cohn.


The Harvard Fellowship

Perhaps I’d leave too.  Bob is departing to accept one of Harvard’s most prestigious postings.  The Resident Fellowship at the Institute of Politics is an award set up to bring top political and public policy talent to live and teach at Harvard.  The surprise for Bob is to be chosen as a media executive.  In general, these few postings a year have been reserved for former, and highest-level, government officials. Bob follows, here, in the path of Mitch Landrieu, Kelly Ayotte, Chuck Hagel, Heidi Heitkamp, Eric Cantor and journalists Dan Balz and Charlie Cook.  Bob’s appointment is to focus on media and politics at a time that both are under disruption.

[ See brief video of incoming Institute of Politics fall 2019 Resident Fellows. ]


Our Post-Cohn Era

Across the last few days, Laurene and I have given thought to how best to proceed after Bob’s departure.  In the event, and not always the case in business, we are thick in leadership talent.  I have asked Michael Finnegan, Atlantic Media president, and Aretae Wyler, chief administrative officer, to step in and divide Bob's responsibilities and direct reports.  For the foreseeable future, Michael and Aretae will have line responsibility for The Atlantic and its divisions.  And, it goes without saying, save that I would like to, that The Atlantic’s senior leaders, Jeffrey Goldberg, Alex Hardiman, Kim Lau, Margaret Low and Hayley Romer are simply superb.


The Impossible Sum of What We Owe Bob Cohn

Bob Cohn did not pass through The Atlantic lightly. To my mind, Bob was the central animating figure in the two great revolutions in my time with the publication.  Joining us in 2009 as digital editor, Bob led the conversion of our then-modest website to the largest economic pillar of the enterprise.  It is not too much to say that this work rescued and then reset The Atlantic. Then, as President since 2014, Bob led the creation of an Atlantic at scale.  It is hard to remember an Atlantic Monthly that set its sights on Harpers. In Bob’s tenure as president, we've grown from 180 staff to 440, from 15 million readers to 30+ million, from halting revenue growth to 60% growth over five years. And, just because the work is so hard, let me mention that, under Bob and then Margaret, AtlanticLive has doubled its revenues and now produces over 100 events a year.  Adweek named Bob its Publishing Executive of the Year last October.

I wonder, on re-reading what I’ve just written, whether I’ve done a disservice.  It is true, objectively, that everything Bob has done for us has succeeded.  But, the temperamental center of Bob is modesty.  He is as high a ratio of talent over ego as anyone I know.  In our ten years together, I’ve never heard Bob ask to advance.  Instead, he is consumed with a sense of service to his team.  “How can I move the whole of us forward?”

The Atlantic will be fine.  At least in the moment, we are teeming with talent.  But, we will deeply miss the unerring, indefatigable, undefeated, and still gentle leadership of Bob Cohn.


I am seeing some number of you across the summer.  But, my larger plan is to convene the whole staff in September or October to review how we are doing as an enterprise and set out our three-year strategy.

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy summer.

With my respect and high regard.